In Koror, a small island kingdom in the Pacific, there’s a jellyfish lake. Its water is warm and murky, and gliding in feels like stepping into a warm bath. Peering below the surface of the water, it takes a few seconds to comprehend the other worldliness of the scene. Pulsating everywhere around are millions…literally millions…. of jellyfish. They throb and glide through the water in a psychedelic spiral wave, constantly appearing and then disappearing into the cloudy water beyond. Little alien brains on a mission for light.
It takes a leap of faith to reach out and touch the first one. I picked a very small jellyfish at first, just to be safe. Oh, the fear! It brushed my fingers and I flinched. But, just as promised, there was no sting. Then, feeling braver, I reached out and touched a larger one. Scooped in my hand, it felt fragile and vulnerable, and suddenly seemed all it really was- just a lump of jelly.
On Monday morning we signed up for a kayak tour of the rock islands. As mentioned in my earlier post, these islands are a Palauan treasure with flora and fauna unique to only these islands. The kayak tour took us on a close up and personal tour of the small marine lakes and bays of the islands. Unlike our previous boat tour where we visited shoals of large colorful fish, this tour was to R Bay, a breeding ground for different specifies of fish including the black-tipped grey reef shark. Sure enough, we saw baby sharks swimming around the bay, alone, or in small groups. Our guide explained that the mother returns to the marine lake where she was born to give birth to her young, and then leaves them there to fend for themselves. This was a relief as we were a bit worried about bumping into mummy shark who I’m sure is a lot less cute… We were also looking for baby manta rays, but weren’t lucky enough to spot any.
We paddled around the edges of the small limestone islands, protected from the sun by the overhanging roofs of the eroded island sides. Erosion is caused not by the waves (there aren’t any), but by mollusks that bury themselves into the limestone rock and slowly wear holes into the rock surface. Then, aided by the wind and water, the rock slowly crumbles and falls away forming the unique mushroom shape of the islands and many natural arches. The overhangs also provided great shelter from the rain. It rained, was cloudy, sunny and rained again as the overhead clouds moved rapidly around. Palau is said to be the starting point for many of the typhoons that affect SE Asia. Typhoons don’t affect Palau, but the open sea around acts as a breed ground where they build strength and head westward to the Philippines, China and Japan.
The kayak tour was about seven hours of paddling around, stopping and starting to snorkel and rest. I thought I was going to be exhausted but the pace was slow and steady and it turns out I’m a competent kayaker. Who knew?!
Another highlight of the tour was the bird life. As we slowly paddled around, birds would swirl around our heads, flying unexpectedly from the trees. Our guide knew their names before we saw them by their cry. The most common was a red heron that would sit still on a branch or floating log and, when startled, it would spread its unexpectedly large wings and soar off in front of us. We saw kingfishers, different kinds of swallows and gulls, and plenty of others whose names I can’t remember. Our guide also knew the names and medicinal qualities of all the trees offering cures for everything from arthritis to toothache. The Palauans name their trees according to how they use them, and if there is no practical use for the tree, it doesn’t have a name.
A beautiful day, and a wonderful way to really experience the peace and beauty of the islands.
We are off on Friday for a four day jaunt to Koror, Palau and getting pretty excited about the trip. Before I dropped the blogging ball, I took some photos of our last trip, which never made it into a post. So, I thought I’d do a quick refresher on the trip highlights so there would be some context for the update on our next trip.
Palau is an island republic about 2.5 hrs flight from Manila. There are only two flights a week which leave Manila at 11pm and drop you in the middle of the Pacific ocean at the unsociable time of 1.30am. Not quite literally, of course, but after flying 2.5 hrs over only water, it kind of feels that way a bit…. Last time we went it was in the middle of a huge thunder and lightening storm – scary stuff. The flashes of lightening lit up the sky and dark cabin of the plane every couple of minutes. The flight didn’t actually arrive until closer to 2.30am. Perhaps the pilot was enjoying the storm…I don’t know…but an hour behind schedule we touched down in Koror in torrential rain. No photos of that, of course, as you couldn’t see a damn thing. However, the next morning, the view from the window was slowly and magically revealed through the morning mist:
Yes, it was a jungle out there! In fact it rained a lot – off and on – over the four days and you could see why everything was so green and overgrown.
We did two classic Koror highlights during our stay: We toured the Rock Islands, which are a maze of beautiful small limestone islands just off the coast. Protected by environmental law, the Palauans are doing their best to preserve their beauty and wild life and doing a pretty good job. Here’s a great video that Latham shot of our ride on a speed boat through the islands. The snorkeling was amazing!
Also that day, we visited Jellyfish Lake. Crammed full of jellyfish – big and small – the lake is safe to swim in because the jellyfish have no sting. Without any natural predators, over the course of thousands of years, the jellyfish have evolved that way, and it is amazing to swim among them. Just be careful not to kick them. I touched the first one gently, not really believing that it wouldn’t cause pain and then got braver and scooped them up in my hands. Amazing stuff!
Not sure of our itinerary this coming weekend, but it sure to involve lots of fish! More pics next week!